History is a word of several meanings, all related to the past. When used as the name of a field of study, history traditionally refers to the study and interpretation of the written record of past human activity, people, societies, and civilizations leading up to the present day. More broadly, as explained in the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, “History in the wider sense is all that has happened, not merely all the phenomena of human life, but those of the natural world as well. It is everything that changes, and as modern science has shown that there is nothing static, therefore, the whole universe, and every part of it, has its history.” The term History comes from the Greek word Historia (ἱστορία), “an account of one’s inquiries,” and shares that etymology with the English word story.
Let’s discuss a few major Historical events in Today’s History.
1914: During World War I, a German U-boat sinks three British cruisers, killing over 1400 sailors.
The German U-boat was a submarine utilizing the latest technology of the time, and able to travel underwater for two hours at a time. In the early days of WWI, three British cruisers, the “Aboukir”, the “Hogue”, and the “Cressy” were sunk by the German U-9 submarine, all within an hour.
The “Aboukir” was the first to be hit, at around 6:25 AM on 22 September 1914. Captain Drummond ordered everyone to abandon ship, but most of the crew had to jump into the sea, as only one boat survived the attack. The “Hogue” stopped to lower its boats to rescue the men of the “Aboukir” and, unaware of the torpedo attack, was hit next. The “Cressy” had also stopped to lower its boats and sighted the U-boat’s periscope too late to evade the attack. 1459 men died, whilst 837 men were rescued.
German U-boat attacks almost isolated Britain, until unprovoked attacks on American vessels traveling to Britain prompted the entry of the USA into the war. American weaponry proved too great for Germany and helped turn the war in favor of the Allies.
`1499: Switzerland gains its independence from the Holy Roman Empire.
Switzerland is a landlocked country of central Europe, positioned at the crossroads of northern and southern Europe. Originally known as Helvetia, the land was Romanised after being overrun by Julius Caesar during the 1st Century BC. When the Roman Empire began to decline three centuries later, the area was invaded by Germanic forces, under which it remained until 1276, when the Austrian House of Habsburg took over the crown of the Holy Roman Empire. The Swiss struggled for independence against the Austrians for two hundred years, and the Swiss Confederation was founded in 1291 as a defense measure. Originally uniting three cantons, also other localities joined, eventually enabling the Swiss to bring down the Austrian forces.
Following the Battle of Dornach, in which Emperor Maximilian I’s troops were decisively beaten, the Swiss Confederacy, or Confederation gained its independence from the Holy Roman Empire. This was sealed in the treaty of Basel on 22 September 1499, although the Treaty was not formally recognized until the Peace of Westphalia, two peace treaties of 1648 which affected many European states.
The Confederation was replaced by a central federal government following a new constitution in 1848, which was updated in 1874.
1953: The famous “four-level” opens in Los Angeles
On this day in 1953, the first four-level (or “stack”) interchange in the world opens in Los Angeles, California, at the intersection of the Harbor, Hollywood, Pasadena, and Santa Ana freeways. It was, as The Saturday Evening Post wrote, “a mad motorist’s dream”: thirty-two lanes of traffic weaving in eight directions at once. Today, although the four-level is justly celebrated as a civil engineering landmark, the interchange is complicated, frequently congested, and sometimes downright terrifying. (As its detractors are fond of pointing out, it is probably no coincidence that the highway octopus straddles not only a fetid sulfur spring but also the former site of the town gallows.)